Remember those student days, 300 joyous students packed into a stuffy and windowless lecture hall. The professor enters, strolls to the lectern, and begins preaching, I mean, presenting. Ugh, my stomach is churning with just the thought.
Don’t get my wrong, I enjoy a truly entertaining presentation. In fact, I absolutely LOVE watching TEDtalks and do it quite frequently. But what is it that makes TEDtalks more acceptable than traditional lectures? Well, for starters, they are limited to roughly 15 minutes in length, the amount of time researchers have demonstrated as the higher bound of engaged listening. But they are also mildly (I emphasize, mildly) more interactive than most academic lectures.
Occasionally, I have students who request that I provide them lectures, instead of the seminar and discussion-based format that make up much of the classes I teach. Much to their chagrin, I steadfastly refuse these requests, for the following reasons:
- Lectures are one-way – I believe adult learning happens most effectively when there is a two-way pathway between facilitator and learner. In fact, I would argue that it’s really a pathway between learner and Learner, as the facilitator stands to learn just as much from the interaction as the student does.
- Lectures are about repetition – As a course designer, I spend considerable time reviewing a number of different texts before I select those that I’ll use in the class. Therefore, I’m comfortable that the information provided is what the students need (and if a textbook doesn’t get at the nuance I would like about a topic, I supplement it with articles that do). What many students who request lectures or PowerPoint presentations are really seeking is a way around reading the actual texts.
- Discussions are more effective learning media – As a professor, my time is as precious as my students’, and I need to prioritize those learning activities that I believe will be most beneficial in a limited time period. Whether online or in-person, I believe the diversity of thought, individual experiences, and perspectives available to be leveraged to discuss the readings and/or other presentation modes for a particular topic results in higher levels of learning.
- I am always learning – Again, perhaps self-centered, but I’m always looking to learn more about a given topic. (In reality, I do NOT think this is self-centered, as the more I learn, the better I am at challenging and provoking reflection and changes in thoughts, perspective, and behavior in my students). Lectures do not allow for significant learning on my part, whereas discussions and observation of applied activities do.
This topic is front and center for me this week, as I’m simultaneously engaged in both evaluating the work of one group of finishing students and launching into another class with a fresh new group. And I realize my approach is permissible largely because I am interacting entirely (within these two classes) with graduate learners. Perhaps with a class of first-year undergraduates, my approach my be more pedagogical. But, then again…likely not.